If you want to be surprised by the conversations of 14-year-old girls, hang around the Washington Pride for a few moments.
Sure, there will be the typical chatter about Taylor Swift and what is the latest trend on TikTok, but you are also likely to hear some deep takes on headline-making events and politics, domestic and international.
The Pride — the Washington, D.C.-based team taking part in this weekend’s Chipotle-USA Hockey Girls Tier I 14U National Championship in Dallas— are comprised of a diverse bunch of players, some being first- or second-generation immigrants from Canada, China, Poland and other countries. Being based in Washington means parents who work in a variety of fields, including government, the military and political lobbying.
You won’t just hear English in these discussions. There are players conversing in Spanish, Mandarin, French, Hebrew and American Sign Language.
Despite all of the cultural differences, there is a lot of unity with the Pride.
“It's actually fun because you have so many different personalities,” said Pride coach Matt Herr, a former NHL player with the Washington Capitals, Florida Panthers and Boston Bruins. “I've coached a lot of different levels for USA Hockey for a while and you're blending a true team, with so many people from different backgrounds and different exposure to different things. But it's nice because a lot of the girls here have a pretty nice perspective.”
That is by design. The Pride is a girls program created by Kush Sidhu in 1996, originally as the Little Capitals. The American-born son of parents from India got hooked on hockey when his dad was doing a neurosurgical residency in Montreal.
Sidhu wanted the Pride to stand for something. Each letter in the team’s name has a guiding principle: Purpose, Resilience, Integrity, Devotion, Everyone. Sidhu has held a variety of coaching positions with USA Hockey and the program has sent more than 140 players to NCAA teams.
“They understand what is expected and it's one of the reasons why you look at the most wins we've had at this age group ever,” Herr said. “It's a credit to those 2008 [birth year] girls that have committed to doing the right thing, right training.”
Among the things the players benefit from being part of the Pride is Sidhu’s connections. Herr noticed that some players weren’t eating the healthiest. So Sidhu brought in a Pride alum, Haley Skarupa, who won a gold medal with the U.S. at the PyeongChang Olympics, to talk about better eating habits.
“How do we have an effect on them? They only listen to me so much,” Herr said. “We started making them aware that this was out there. I'm not an expert, right? So we want to bring in somebody that had experience that the girls can look up to because eating disorders and things like that, whether it's athletes, for girls at this age is always a tough topic.”
Skarupa came by the facility and gave a 45-minute talk to the team about nutrition. It worked, and Herr has seen the players continue to have healthier habits.
Herr has been with the Pride the last two seasons after moving from Pittsburgh due to his wife taking a job with a D.C.-area university. Herr didn’t just jump at the first opportunity. He made sure the Pride was a fit with his beliefs, too.
“They do things with USA Hockey and what we talk about in the development side of coaching,” Herr said. “They lift twice a week at least. They have a full-time strength coach. They practice three to four times a week. I was lucky enough to be able to work with Kush on scheduling this year and we're not overscheduling our girls. Luckily, we've done well enough, so we keep playing.”
Even with parents who hold powerful day jobs, Herr hasn’t seen them try to flex their muscles and get advantages for their kids when it comes to playing time.
“I think it comes from Kush and the way the organization operates,” Herr said. “I'm sure there's parents that are that are questioning you, but I feel like and I think what's been so positive is for a majority, I truly believe that these parents are echoing some of the same sentiment that Kush is echoing for the Pride organization and that I'm echoing to the players on the bench.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.